EDITORIAL: Shortage of artisans is holding back real estate growth

Kisaju View Park estate.
Workers on the site of the Kisaju View Park estate. PHOTO/COURTESY
Over the past few years, players in the Kenyan construction industry have decried the shortage of skilled artisans in the industry.

This is especially so, considering that the country’s top universities are churning out more architects and engineers than the number of certificate and diploma holders graduating in tertiary institutions.

This is mainly due to the fact that a growing number of form four leavers are opting to study courses that lead to white collar jobs, with only a few individuals joining vocational institutions to pursue training in plumbing, masonry, painting, and wiring among others.

The skills shortage is further complicated by fact that in the last five years many tertiary colleges, where artisans ordinarily went for training, have been converted to universities – most of which offer art courses.

This has left the country with about 5,000 engineers and architects, against less than 2,000 training masons, plumbers and painters.

The skilled labour crunch has raised home construction costs by double digit rates– forcing some cash-strapped developers to cut back on new project launches.

A recent study by the Construction Business Review showed that daily dues for certificated artisans now range between 2,000 and 2,500 up from between Sh500 and Sh1,000 in 2012. Those operating in major cities such as Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Nakuru charge more.

Peter Munyaka, a Kiambu-based painter, recently told this newspaper that his services are in high demand in his county and that he is now able to negotiate “anything not less than Sh2,000 per day”.

While this is good news for the skilled artisans, the current state of affairs is quite unfavourable for a country that is struggling to put up decent housing for its fast expanding population.

Indeed, there are concerns that many developers, faced with the difficulty of finding skilled workers, are now resorting to poaching workers from other developers’ sites by offering increases in wages. In the end, this behaviour is further raising the overall labour costs in the industry.

On the other hand, developers seeking to cut labour costs are increasingly being forced by circumstances to hire uncertified jua kali artisans – most of whom are quacks –a scenario that has led to the rising building collapse cases in Kenya.

We therefore call on the government and major stakeholders in the country to urgently address the labour shortage to ensure the industry’s future success.

Some industry players are already committing millions of shillings and valuable time to train young people for highly skilled construction jobs.

The companies, which include NSE-listed blue chips such as Bamburi and HF Group, say they have been prodded into action by an “acute” shortage of qualified construction workers – a situation that threatens to slow down the construction industry, thereby undermining their profitability.

Other firms that are training artisans include the China Road and Bridge Corp., which is training railway workers, and Crown Paints, which has embarked on a programme that offers free basic brush application training to painters to enhance their skills.

The National Construction Authority (NCA) — the regulator of the local construction industry, is also teaming up with several organisations to train artisans as part of an ambitious plan to train one million craftsmen in the next four years. This is commendable and we urge more organisations to follow suit.